Saturday, July 12, 2014


When we came home after Baldwin left, our house felt empty and quiet, even with our three, loud boys.  We had been asked to finish an older dog for a family that was moving away and could not finish him.  We thought it would be a good fit, a "rebound" dog of sorts that we would only be keeping for a few months.  Owen came the Saturday after we were in New York.  He struck me as an incredibly handsome dog with a big, English head like Jeremy loves and shiny, coarse fur.  We were glad to have a dog to fill the void, yet all was not well for the first couple of weeks.  Owen had been used to having other dogs around, and had been in 4-5 different homes in his short life due to circumstances beyond his control.  At first he seemed withdrawn, just laying alone on our cold hardwood floors and not having the slightest desire to be near us or come when called.  He had several accidents in the house and pulled on the leash which was out of character for him.  He would play for short stints, but soon give up and go off to sleep away from us again.  We thought he would not work out and that he was regressing and just not a good fit for us.  Our trainer encouraged us to give him some time, which we happily did.  One day we had Pax, the pug we petsit from time to time, come stay with us for a few days.  Owen became a different dog from that time forward, even after Pax left.  It was like a switch had flipped and he started to enjoy us, and we, him!  His real personality came to light as he would continually present his toys to us and love to be scratched.  He didn't mind the boys snuggling up to him on the floor as they played their video games with their heads on his chest and he was AMAZING out in the stores.  No sniffing, no pulling, wonderful when greeting strangers, it was magic.  He loved coming with me to work and even came to some swimming events the kids had.  We quickly fell in love with his soft and determined personality.  He definitely did not like being told what to do all the time, and we learned to give him a bit more space than Baldwin, and then he did just fine.  Originally, we were to keep him  until his IFT date in September, but it got pushed up to July and our short time became even shorter.  If you would have asked me during the first week of having him if I thought he would pass his guide dog test I would have told you no, but now I just know he will pass with flying colors!  I hope he gets a chance to show what he is truly capable of and that he is himself when he goes to New York.  He truly is an amazing dog and we know he has the potential to become a Guiding Eyes dog.  We will miss having that big guy around.

4th of July

We enjoyed a fourth of July with record cool weather at the Gilliland's home.  By firework time, it was cool enough for a sweater!  The men had a ball showing off their firework skills!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Endings... and New Beginnings

When we moved into this house, Cameron was only a year old.  Local schools were nowhere near being on our radar, and we weren't sure how long we would actually live here.  A few years later Cameron started kindergarten at Mountain View Elementary, a school that taught only kids in our gated, upper middle class community.  While we weren't thrilled with his teacher that first year, the principal and staff were amazing and we felt so lucky to be a part of it all.  This year was a dream for me.  All three boys attended Mountain View together in 5th, 2nd and kindergarten.  They all rode the bus together.  They saw each other in the halls and cafeteria.  I was a substitute teacher there at least once a week which allowed me to get to know the teachers and administration even better.  I loved almost every bit of it all.

Today was the last day of school.  If you ask Mason if he's excited for 1st grade next year he will say yes- except the part about Cameron not being there.  I went to graduation today and sobbed my eyes out remembering the little boy that I walked to the bus stop with an infant and a toddler in tow.  Really- how does time fly so fast?  I think it was fate that the teacher he had this year- Mrs. Ross was once a kindergarten aide that was assigned to Cameron's class so long ago.  She handed him his kindergarten diploma and today his 5th grade one too.  A full circle moment.  She has seen us through thin and more than our share of thick this year and we adore her.  She cried with me today as we said our goodbyes.

The future scares me to death.  Middle school with its combination locks and dressing out for PE, the awkward puberty stage when my mom says all the kids have big noses, and finding friends in all your different classes and lunch- it makes me break into a sweat.  Not to mention the homework load- ugh!  Cameron doesn't seem old enough for all of that and the mama hen in me just wants to lay on top of him and protect him from all of that.  But if you ask him he will tell you he's excited and it won't be that bad- except that there's no recess, that stinks.

This boy of mine has made me so proud these past six years, I have no doubt he will continue to impress me and work hard.  Cameron, you are my sweetheart of a boy and I love, love, love you!

And we can't forget Mason and his kindergarten graduation!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

New York

Yorktown Heights New York is about 45 minutes away from NYC.  While we were there dropping Baldwin off, we toured their Canine Development Center- aka the puppy place.  So many adorable puppies to see!  All bred for service.  I was amazed at the amount of volunteers they have playing with puppies, massaging puppies, and cleaning up after puppies- seriously, they go through so much newspaper!  We also traveled to the city.  Jeremy and the boys had never been there so we took advantage of its proximity.  We visited Times Square and went to the giant Toys R Us and M&M store, and then hopped on a tour bus that took us all around the city, by Central Park and the Empire State Building, the new World Trade Center and then we took the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty.  They were all so excited to be in a city that they had seen in so many movies.  There were definitely more things that we wanted to do, but will check those off on the next trip!

The puppy no one wanted

My phone rang during a continuing education class on a Sunday last March.  When I checked the message during break, I heard Jodi's voice, "Is there any way you would be interested in an older puppy?  We have one that is 14 weeks old still up in the kennels that had a urinary tract infection when he was younger and by the time he finished his meds, he was so much older than the other puppies that everyone passed him over.  His name is Baldwin and he is a yellow male like you wanted."  Our journey with Guiding Eyes had started in January, and our whole family took part in the pre-puppy placement classes for several weeks.  We wanted to get our puppy before Spring break when everyone would be home.  Initially, we were expecting an 8 week old puppy since that is usually when they place them, but the prospect of getting one farther along in his housebreaking training was tempting.  And my heart immediately went out to this pup, the last one left of his litter, just waiting for someone to choose him.  After talking it over with Jeremy we decided to go for it.  Things moved quickly and we found out about a van ride that would bring him south from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind facility in New York.  The kids had never had a puppy and we were excited to have them be part in the raising of this very special pup with a purpose.  We were clear in the fact that this was not our dog- his future was to be the eyes for someone who could not see.  Quickly this little yellow ball of love won us all over, with his sad expression and "old soul" eyes, and his desire to be anyone's lap dog, even Mason's.  It became exciting that we could take him places other dogs could not go, and the kids liked it when people would ask about our yellow pup and his blue vest that identified him.   He would take turns at night staying with Cameron and Gavin until lights out at 9 pm, and I loved to sneak in and see them curled up reading on the floor or sometimes asleep.  He also came with me to work almost every day.  It didn't take long for him to learn that if he wanted to stay out with all of the other animals and people, he needed to be calm and quiet.  He was always tethered to my desk, and just last week a client remarked that she thought he was a statue, he was so still and good.

We knew he could not stay with us forever.  I clearly recall one class we had inside of Old Navy.  We had been working hard on walking without pulling at home and he was superb in the store.  I teared upright there in the store in the moment I realized that this dog was so hardwired to succeed at his "job."  With or without my help he would become something amazing.  We learned his big guide dog test would be May 20 and as that day crept closer on the calendar we savored more of the day to day moments like how he always watched out the car window when I dropped the kids off at school, or how he still tried to climb into everyone's laps, especially during family scripture and prayer time, or how he would have these impressive strings of drool form when he was waiting to be released to eat his meals.  He was completely integrated into our family life and in our hearts.  We decided to go with him on his journey back to where he came from, and made the long car ride feeling somber and a bit nervous about how he would do on the test.  People constantly asked us how we could ever do this thing- love a dog for so long and then give him back.  The truth was we didn't know until the end was there in front of us.  We stayed at the GEB guest house and were fortunate enough that of the 30 dogs being tested in May, Baker, Baldwin's brother and his raisers also stayed at the guest house and the boys were reunited the night before we had to check them in.  We shared stories of our boys and were astounded at how similar the two were.  They wrestled like brothers and we wondered if it was possible for them to remember each other.  It was slightly comforting to know that they would be moving on together.  When Sunday morning came we made the drive to the training school and everyone held it together until they showed us to his kennel and told us to take as much time as we needed to say goodbye.  Baldwin had no idea what was coming, he was just sniffing everything and trying to say hello to the dogs across from him.  The reality sank in to me that I was leaving my baby- yes he belonged to Guiding Eyes but for 15 treasured months he was mine.  We knew we would get to see him again in a couple of days when we watched his test, but leaving him there in that loud, cold place was almost too much.  Cameron got a little emotional once he saw how upset I was, but the younger two seemed fine.  It was comforting to know that Baldwin would have two roommates join him soon.  He always loved playing with other dogs.

Tuesday morning we got stuck in traffic on our way to the testing.  We arrived just as they were starting and discovered that Baldwin was number 3 on the list.  Jeremy and I held our breath as they brought him in and worked him around different sounds/obstacles to see how he would do.  We were so proud!  Immediately after we were escorted out to see him and wait to hear what was decided.  Most dogs that make it this far in the program  go into harness training, and a select few become breeders for the next generation of guide dogs.  It came as no surprise that our Baldwin was selected to go into breed evaluation where they will do medical testing to determine whether or not he will make a good stud.  This news gave us very mixed feelings, all along we had been picturing him in a harness giving someone such great freedom and changing their life, but now he may just be going to another, closer, foster family to be a pet until needed for breeding.  It will still be a while before his fate is really determined, but regardless we know he will be fulfilling his destiny.  As a breeder he will be making the next generation of guide dogs that will live a life of service, and if he is not selected he will go into harness training and be paired up with someone who needs him and we know will love him dearly.

There have been many tears since Tuesday when we said our final goodbye.  I bought the boys all stuffed yellow lab puppies before the ride home and asked them what they would name them.  Mason said "Mike."  Gavin said "Alpha."  Cameron sobbed "Baldwin!!!"  For Gavin it took a little longer to sink in.  Coming home to an empty house was awful.  Gavin had a hard time getting to sleep and was crying, worried that we will never see Baldwin again.  The future is indeed unsure, and that scares all of us, but we are hopeful that someday we will be reunited with our Ball-sy boy.  No matter what happens, we don't regret bringing that unwanted puppy into our lives.  This was something that we did together as a family that brought us all closer together.  That puppy was fed 5 hearts full of love and devotion, and he grew into something better than any of us could've imagined.

In talking with the kids about whether or not to raise for Guiding Eyes again, I was impressed with Cameron's maturity.  Through tears he said that as much as this hurt, it was such a goodness we had done and that he wanted to keep helping.  Maybe next time it won't hurt so much.